Thursday 2nd May

In February, I was fortunate to travel to Chicago as part of a RISE Bookseller Exchange program, an initiative aimed at strengthening the sharing of information across the global bookselling community. My destination: Anderson's in Naperville, Illinois, a revered institution in the realm of independent bookstores. This opportunity, facilitated by RISE, was the most wonderful week of learning and sharing, and truly reinforced why I love working in bookselling so much.

Anderson's, a sixth-generation family-run bookstore, stands as a testament to their resilience and innovation in the book industry. What began in 1875, as a drugstore selling books at the counter for the town of Naperville, has evolved into two bookstore locations, a toy shop and a wholesale book fair business. Anderson’s has fostered an incredibly strong place in the community, running book launches for some of the world’s largest authors (hosting more than 7000 people for Stephen King!), community events, supporting schools, libraries, and local charities. I spent my week at Anderson’s in awe of their capacity to scale their business, rival non-independent competitors and stay true to their core values and the spirit of independent bookselling.

My time at Anderson’s was primarily to learn about their book fair business. Anderson’s Book Fair Company runs over 300 (!) book fairs each year. Anyone that has run a book fair before can probably imagine what a logistical nightmare this is. In order to facilitate the scale of their business, Anderson’s business is complete with trucks, a dedicated warehouse and staff.

I learnt a lot during my week in Naperville. From information sessions with local teachers, to experiencing their events firsthand, to one-on-one meetings with most of her staff, Becky Anderson (Anderson’s owner) was incredibly kind and generous with her time.

One of the key lessons I took from Anderson’s, which was pervasive throughout the business, was the importance of knowing your worth as a bookseller. Anderson’s and the staff at Anderson’s valued their time and their offerings incredibly highly, and ran their business accordingly. If they were offering a complimentary service (e.g. a free author school tour), the dollar value of this service was very clearly communicated to schools and teachers.

To see an independent bookstore fighting the good fight on such a large scale was such a wonderful experience. It was also incredibly heartening to work in a store half a world away that shared so many of our values as our own bookshop. That it is possible to ‘take on’ the big guys and grow sustainably, while not compromising on the things that want to be booksellers in the first place, was comforting. We shared resources, ideas and stories freely, and I left Chicago with a huge list of new ideas for our own book fairs and stores.

I would encourage anyone who is interested to consider applying for RISE Bookseller Exchange. Avid Reader and Where The Wild Things Are are now on the list to host an international bookseller, and we have our fingers crossed that someone will be coming to visit us soon. It is a wonderful thing to be able to share ideas and fight for independent books across international borders.

Amy McKinnon, Where the Wild Things Are Book Fair Manager